Dark Christmas Trees are Great Metaphors

December 12, 2023 — Despite the theme of this here blog, I did actually decorate for Christmas this year. I mean, originally, I had visions of turning my house into Scrooge’s—a Marley knocker on the front door maybe, a ghost in chains and cash boxes flying from a window. A cauldron on my roof with someone boiling in their own pudding, a stake of holly through their heart. Tiny Tim in a broken puddle at the bottom of my doorstep. A Grim Reaper pointing at a tombstone on the front lawn that reads, RIP JWO.

You know, decorating out of defiance. Or depression. Or disgust. Like Clark Griswold stapling his flannel sleeve to the roof just to avoid the family get-together of his own making.

Instead, I decorated. Mildly. Just the tree inside, and outside a row of lights along the roof, a couple of reindeer in the yard. A giant light-up Santa face on the wall like that thing Sean Connery rode in Zardoz. Some blow molds that I just dropped into the dead leaves that I never raked. Took about two hours to do it all.

But why, right? In a season where I’m anti-season, dear god-in-a-manger, why?

For the kids. Of course, for the kids. Intrinsically, but also for some much-needed continuity in their lives. They’re not getting it from anywhere else.

But when the girls aren’t around, the Christmas tree is dark. And while the outdoor lights are on a timer, those decorations transmogrify when the house is empty. The roof lights become a string of bared teeth. The Santa face, a severed trophy head. The grazing deer one stray hunter from being plastic jerky. The blow molds? Well, blow molds are always a little bit depressing already.

But I did enjoy putting up our tree. Completely because it was an activity with the girls. Watching them fight over their favorite ornaments. Watching the five-year-old overweight the bottom branches and the older two surreptitiously fixing them for her. Hearing them laugh as I try to straighten the star at the top and failing miserably for half an hour. Listening to the annual argument of whether we should set it to white lights or color, blinking or static. The only sad part was me trying to toss away the previously meaningful ornaments as mere hunks of metal and glass and plastic, and my oldest trying to save them like an NHL goalie. Or just like a teenager trying to save the memory of her family.

But I’ve grown to like my dark Christmas tree. It’s sad, sure. But it’s also a great metaphor. 

Battle against the winter and death dark all you want, keep those lights burning as festively as possible through the shortening days and the deepening snows (and New Englanders keep up Christmas lights for months after December 25), but in the end, that glorious thing that has inspired countless songs and been the centerpiece of revels for centuries…is just getting tossed onto the curb or shoved back in the attic, depending on if it was a live tree or a fake one.

Now imagine that garbage truck rumbling down the streets of your neighborhood, dead trees prostrate by the mailboxes, the whole thing a bizarre reenactment of corpse wagons picking up plague victims, all soundtracked by O Tannenbaum.

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty;
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.
Your bright green leaves with festive cheer,
Give hope and strength throughout the year.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
We learn from all your beauty.

If that doesn’t shake you from your sugar-plum coma, I don’t know what would.

Instead, we should keep them dark and then throw them out to the strains of Fairytale of New York (RIP, Shane…you should have been the name on my Ghost of Christmas Future tombstone), while lifting a glass of whiskey and promising ourselves that next year, we’ll do better. Although we know deep down and long after the throat burn ceases, that we probably won’t.

Dark Christmas trees are the only real Christmas trees.

Just don't tell my youngest that yet.